updated 17 Jan 2010, 09:47
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Sun, Jan 17, 2010
The Straits Times
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New year, new start
by Sumiko Tan

The thing about having your birthday close to Christmas is that people always end up giving you just one present.

As anyone whose birthday falls within a one-week radius of Christmas (pre- or post-) will tell you, it's rare that you get two presents from the same person.

'That's for your birthday and Christmas,' they'll say and you'll assure them that, of course, that's okay. You weren't even expecting a present in the first place.

I've long stopped celebrating my birthday. In fact, if I had my way, I'd like to skip the last two weeks of December and go straight to the second week of January. You know, like go to bed on Dec 20 and wake up on Jan 10.

The last weeks of December are usually the most trying for me. Every December I vow not to feel blue but fail miserably.

Not only do I have to reconcile with turning a year older, I have to also suffer through Christmas Eve and Christmas, then New Year's Eve and the New Year.

It's not so much the rush and the crowds�and the over-eating that get to me - I can bear all that.

What I can't take is the forced (to me) jollity and having to live up to expectations (mostly mine) that this will be an especially joyous period spent feasting, laughing and partying with loved ones.

Maybe it's because I'm single and don't have a family of my own, but it seldom turns out that way.

I usually find myself alone and feeling sorry for myself. Everyone seems to be having a good time except me.

As neighbours break out the champagne bottle and peals of laughter burst from their homes, I'll be sitting in bed pondering what-if and why-not questions. What did I achieve, if anything, this year? Why didn't I do better? Why am I alone on New Year's Eve? It gets too heavy even for a pessimistic person like me.

Which is why I don't like taking leave in December. I know I'll be even more moody if I had time on my hands. I'd rather be in the office and plunged in work.

To make matters worse, I caught the flu in the last two weeks of December last year. The bug appeared around my birthday, then went away, popped up again during Christmas but laid low for a while, then hit me with its full force around the New Year.

Could I be even more miserable than I already was?

In times like these, it helps to have a best friend. One of the nicest things that happened to me in 2009 was how I got reacquainted with my old friend from school, Hurricane.

Two days before my birthday, he got a cake delivered to my house - a lovely concoction made up of 20 layers of crepe bursting with vanilla cream and with a caramelised topping. What a nice surprise, I told him. It's been ages since I celebrated my birthday with a cake.

The day before my birthday, a Sunday, he made me take the cake out and Skype him.

Light the candle, he said.

I did, and then, thousands of miles away in their house in Britain, he and his four-year-old daughter (he's divorced) sang me a hearty rendition of Happy Birthday.

It was sweet.

Make a wish, he said.

So I did, blew the candle, cut the cake and pretended to feed them with some of it too.

He spent time with me on Christmas too (the wonders of Skype).

I entered his house and watched his daughter rip open her presents on Christmas morning over there, then looked on as he set about trying to assemble the giant pink Barbie kitchen he got her.

Haha, I said, Daddy trying to assemble a doll house. This is going to be a real test of your character. I'll get to see how patient or not you are.

It was more complicated than it looked but all went well until he got to the bit where he had to fit in the door. The section kept getting stuck and he grew more and more frustrated.

Patience, I laughed, as he threw me an exasperated look.

There's something not quite right with it, he said. Good try, I said. You just don't know how to fix it. He managed to get it done eventually. You've got a five out of 10 in my Patient Daddy score, I told him. Not very good.

On New Year's Eve, I was felled by the bug and went to bed early.

Half an hour before midnight, he woke me up with an SMS to say he was rushing home from tennis and asked me to turn on Skype. He was going to welcome the Singapore new year with me.

Oh okay, I said, groggy with the medication I'd taken. Actually, all I wanted to do was sleep.

I switched on Skype and waited.

He came online. We chatted, then as the seconds inched towards midnight, started our countdown.

Wait, he said.

He reached to his side, took a clarinet (he's been teaching himself to play it), and started playing Auld Lang Syne on it for me.

It was a shaky rendition done with many sharp intakes of breath, but that made it all the more charming.

From my window, I could hear the popping sound of fireworks going off some place far away, in Marina Bay, perhaps.

That's sweet, I told him, laughing, as he blew the last notes of the song.

This will be the last time you'll ever be alone and lonely in December, he declared.

Oh really, I teased him. You're so sure about that?

But I was secretly touched by what he said.

When you've been single for a while, you view starting a new relationship with a huge dose of trepidation.

You've been through it all before and you're tired. You know too well how it often starts nicely but ends horribly.

You know how hard it is for two people to compromise, which is what relationships are all about. And you know it's even harder when you're older, set in your ways, live in different continents and have been scarred by relationships past.

You wonder if you have the energy anymore to go through another relationship. You think of the heart and head aches that might come your way and wonder if the hassle is going to be worthwhile.

You also know by now that there are wrong reasons for one to embark on a relationship.

You know that not wanting to spend another birthday or Christmas or New Year alone is not a good reason to commit to someone. Neither is bowing to social pressure (you're of a certain age and the only one left in the family who hasn't 'settled down').

You know that you shouldn't enter a relationship hoping it can fill whatever void you have inside, or because you think having a partner would give your life more meaning, purpose and excitement.

You know that if you aren't already fulfilled and happy with yourself and within yourself, no one's ever going to do that for you.

The test, I suppose, is whether you still want to spend time with the person when dreary December is over and, hooray, January is finally here and life is back to normal and you've shaken off those holiday blues.

If you still desire his or her company, then surely the new year is the best time to make a fresh start, take that leap of faith and take the plunge.

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This article was first published in The Sunday Times.

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